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Pope Francis Teaches Us the Meaning of Humble, Loving Service

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

April 17, 2014
Pope Francis kisses a foot of a disabled person Our Lady of Providence Center in Rome
For the second year in a row Pope Francis chose to celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper among people often pushed to the margins of society. This evening visited the Don Gnocchi centre in Rome’s Casal del Marmo area, close to the Youth Detention Center where he celebrated Mass among young prison inmates last year. This year he visited a sister center for the elderly and disabled.
In a gesture of humility and service, and in imitation of Christ, Pope Francis put on an apron and knelt down to wash the feet of 12 residents during the the Mass of the Lord’s Supper: nine Italians, one Muslim from Libya, a young man from Cape Verde and an Ethiopian woman. These individuals are suffering with physical, neurological and oncological illnesses.
Visibly fatigued and requiring assistance to kneel and stand up again as he came close to the end of the rite, Pope Francis conveyed tenderness and concern for each person, pouring water on each person’s foot, then drying it and kissing it, before offering a loving gaze, sometimes reciprocated, depending on each person’s state of health.
Here are brief biographies of those whose feet Pope Francis washed during the ceremony:
-Oswaldinho, 16 yr old young man from Cape Verde who had a diving accident last summer and is now completely paralyzed
-Orietta, 51 yr old woman from Rome who has suffered from illness that has affected her brain
-Samuel, 66 yr old man who has had polio from his youth
-Marco, 19 yr old man, high school student and leader of his parish Youth Group who was diagnosed with a cerebral palsy last year
-Angelica, 86 yr old woman from Maenza, former president of Catholic Action in Italy, who had a double hip replacement
-Daria, 39 yr old woman who has suffered with cerebral palsy from her childhood
-Pietro, 86 yr old who has been a resident at the Centre for a year, struggling with serious mobility and muscular deficiency
-Gianluca, 36 yr old man who from the age of 14 has had numerous operations as a result of meningitis
-Stefano, 49 yr old man who suffers with serious cerebral and motor disorder and has been a resident at the centre for the past two years
-Hamed, 75 yr old Muslim man originally from Libya worked for the Italian-Arab Chamber of Commerce before suffering a traffic accident that caused serious neurological impairment
-Giordana, 27 yr old woman from Ethiopia suffering from cerebral palsy and epilepsy
-Walter, 59 yr old man suffering from Down's Syndrome
Each of these persons has received help and support from the Don Gnocchi Foundation to overcome the difficulties, marginalization and isolation they often face on account of their age or disability.
The Pope’s selection of the location and his gesture of washing the feet of 12 people with disability was intended to underline the forms of fragility, in which the Christian community is called to recognize the suffering Christ and to which it must devote attention, solidarity and charity.
Here is the full text of the Pope’s extemporaneous homily which he delivered during the mass. Francis reflected on the Lord’s loving act of service, an act which he himself imitated later in the mass, kneeling down to wash the feet of twelve patients and residents of the centre.
“We have heard what Jesus did at the Last Supper: It is a gesture of farewell. He is God and he makes himself a servant, our servant. It is like an inheritance. You also must be servants of one another. He crossed this path by love. Also you must love each other and be servants in Love. This is the inheritance that Jesus leaves us. And he makes this gesture of washing feet, which is a symbolic act. The slaves performed this, the servants at the meals for the people who came to dine because at that time the streets were made of dirt and when they entered in a house it was necessary to wash one’s feet. And Jesus made performed this action, a work, a service of a slave, of a servant. And this he leaves like an inheritance amongst us. We must be servants of each other.
And for this, the church, today, commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he also—in the ceremony—performs the action of the washing of the feet, which reminds us that we must be servants of one another. Now I will perform this act, but all of us, in our hearts, let us think of others and think in the love that Jesus tells us that we have to have for the others and let us consider also how we can serve better, other people. Because Jesus wanted it this way among us.”
At the end of the Mass, the Pope carried the Blessed Sacrament to an Altar of Repose. He remained there in prayer until the end of the “Pange Lingua” hymn, after which he processed out of the chapel in the usual silence with which the Holy Thursday evening liturgy concludes.
This is the second year the Pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper among a group of people usually marginalized by society. Last year, the Pope celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper at a youth detention centre in Rome.
Photo description: Pope Francis kisses the foot of a disabled person at Our Lady of Providence Center during Holy Thursday Mass in Rome April 17. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)